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Having Clarence at 17 is the boldest thing in my life

Source: RONKE KEHINDE and ODUNAYO OREYENI - Nigeriafilms.com

Clarion Chukwura is a household name that has been in Nigerian film industry for almost three decades. An indigene of Anambra State, she is undoubtedly a role model to many actors and actresses, while many more are dreaming of following her footsteps. She started on the stage in 1979, and moved into the film industry in 1982 with Ola Balogun's film – 'Money power'. She was the lead female character in 'Fiery Force', by Jimi Odumosu, which was the first attempt at home video productions in Nigeria in 1986.

Her dream of becoming an actress started at age five, when she watched Micheal Jackson perform on stage with the Jackson Five. The impressionable Clarion also watched Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra at the Casino cinema.

She played Mary Magdalene at age 10, during her primary school graduation play. Now, she is moving on to other things, particularly fashion designing. She recently introduced her clothing line, which she said is an avenue to further get young people redefine themselves in what they wear. RONKE KEHINDE and ODUNAYO OREYENI met her.

Tell us about your new passion - fashion designing?

I just kicked off the Clarion Chukwura clothing line. It is my own concept, principally. Three years ago, when I decided that I wanted to diversify my brand, since I have evolved as a brand, my name has evolved as a brand and I want to diversify the brand into utility services, one way or the other so that I can further impact on young people and the youthful, I decided to go into clothing. I thought about a line with which I could impact young people to redefine themselves in what they wear and also brand Nigeria in what they wear.

What type of clothes do you do?

I do t-shirts, dress tops, shirts and progressively pants, corporate casuals and downright casuals.

Are you planning to retire from acting into designing?

(Laughs) No, acting, film making is my first love from my childhood; that was what I was inspired to do. It is what gives me greater career fulfillment and from being an actress I would progress into film making to give Nigerians and Africans in the diaspora my own prospective in film making. The clothing line is another part of me. That is why that is my signature statement for my clothing line and I love that part of me.

You have been a successful actress over the years, you are a brand and a household name. Do you feel you have had a fulfilled life as an actress?

Everyday I'm still in the course of total self actualization as an actress.

You have been a very stylish person, what informs your style?

(Laughs)Me! My style is the projection of my inner man, it is a projection of my personality; it is me.

In the course of your duty as an actress for over 30 years, what are those things you can't forget in a hurry?

The number one thing I can't forget is having started out my career being trained and working alongside great professionals and teachers who from my childhood I have always heard and looked up to. The likes of Dr. Bayo Oduneye, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Dr. Ola Balogun, Mrs Olaiya and some not so popular professionals who have also impacted my life. Those who are behind the camera like Wale Fanu, Tunde Kelani, Lola Fani-Kayode, Peter Igho, I won't forget having worked with those people in the course of my training; also Jimi Solanke, Prof. Bode Sowande and the likes.

What was the biggest sacrifice for you in your career?

The biggest sacrifice for me is not having to be able to do certain things that I would want to do; like going straight, down to earth, and doing what ordinary people do without anybody feeling that by doing those things I would be disappointing people as a result of fame. Another is having to work with people who are not professionals at all, and who I have to contain my temper because as a professional I just have to control my feelings like having to work with people who rather than having gone through preliminary training like everyone else, but they get their roles through some extraneous sentiments and they come on sets completely green without any rehearsals and I have to endure arduous hours on set because they are being trained on set. Also perhaps the greatest sacrifice is working when I'm ill because I just have to work. I remember seven years ago 2003, when I was shooting 'Egg of Life'. It was raining everyday and the costume was the epic igbo costume and still went to two other sets without any break. At the end of the first day at my third set I fell ill, it was discovered that I had pneumonia yet I could not rest or take time off to undergo any proper treatment because the schedule for that stretch of time had actually been drawn up to favour me so that I would work continuously for the next 10 days so that I could move to another set whilst the production continued.

You mentioned that there were some things you could not do so as not to disappoint people, what are those things?

Not that I don't want to disappoint people, but I don't want people to feel disappointed seeing me doing those things; for instance I'm somebody that loves the beach, I would love to lie in my underwear on the beach sand late at night and just relax and let go, but I can't do that because somebody may come with a camera to take a picture of me and then it's on the front pages that Clarion is semi nude. I am somebody that loves amala, gbegiri and ewedu, the one you find in the extremely local buka. If I go in a local buka, everybody will be staring, wondering why I'm not in a Chinese restaurant.

Most successful women don't have successful marriages, would you say you have sacrificed your marriage for fame?

I have been famous since I was 17years old, and I got married for the first time at the age of 31. I had been famous for 14years before I got married.

What happened to your marriage, did it collapse because you were too busy?

Thank you I don't want to talk about my marriage here

What would you say are your achievements so far?

I have achieved quite a lot. Firstly, I have been able to draw up an impressive record for myself whereby I have acted in different parts of the world. As a stage actress, I have climbed and acted on stages where some of the actors I have revered from childhood, who I had never thought I would ever enter the theatre world they worked, but I have acted on the same stage where they acted. The likes of Lawrence Olivia. The greatest moment of my life as an actress was when I climbed on the stage of the Royal Court theatre in the West End in London, and acted on the same stage that Lawrence Olivia acted on for several years. I have acted in France and South America. As a stage actress, I have achieved my dream. As a screen actress, I have been able to impact on Nigerians, Caribbeans, and black Africans as a whole in Africa and in the diaspora. Some of my greatest fans who would do anything for me are Caribbeans, Vietnamese and the likes. I have succeeded in being a role model not just for actors who are acting now in this generation, but for those who want to or are planning to, who are in school right now studying theatre arts, dramatic arts, film making; today's film makers and tomorrow's film makers I have succeeded in impacting on them. As an actress, what I've achieved in personal fulfillment and in impactation is actually more important to me than the financial returns. I've also been able to produce an heir for myself in the next generation of Clarion Chukwura, which is Clarence Peters.

Can you share with us some growing up memories?

I had some fantastic growing up memories as a child. My childhood in Lagos was a fantastic one at 14, Agard Street, off Commercial Avenue, Yaba. The weekends were always about the driver taking us to watch movies or to watch the Art Alade shows, the Moses Olaiya recordings, Baba Mero recordings and the beach. While the week days were of course school and after school, going to buy stuffs at Domino, Maxi market or just sneak off to go to tourist centers to look at carvings, statues and fountains in the homes of Isiaku Rabiu and the likes. Going to Ikoyi park, the evenings were a park affair.

How and when did you find yourself in the movie industry?

(Laughs) I began acting (stage and television) in 1979, and I entered the Nigerian film industry in1982 with Ola Balogun's 'Money Power'. But if you want to talk about home video, I entered the home video industry in 1994; but I was the lead female character in the first attempt at home video production in Nigeria by Jimi Odumosu which was 'Fiery Force' in 1986.

What was your childhood dream?

It was to become an actress since when I was five years old. It actually started when I saw Michael Jackson performing on stage with the Jackson five on television, and also saw Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra at the Casino cinemas. I said to my father sitting next to me that night that I wanted to be like her.

When was your first stage attempt?

That was when I was in primary school. I played Mary Magdalene in my primary six graduation play, which was about the birth of Jesus Christ. I was 10 years old.

What about your first play professionally?

My first play semi professionally was Prof. Bode Sowande's 'Farewell to Babylon' in 1979. It is a published play of his, it was done on the stage of University of Ibadan and I was 15 years old.

What should your fans be looking forward to?

They should look forward to designs in the Clarion Chukwura's clothing line that asks them to redefine themselves.

What would be different about your designs?

My designs would be body toned, designs that promote sexuality, because I am a very sexual person. I believe if you've got it flaunt it. It would also have a lot to do with the branding of Nigeria.

What is your vision for the line?

Our long term vision is to be producing here in Nigeria in partnership of my clothing line and a foreign company producing here for not just my line, but other people's line who have our kind of style.

What is your vision for Nollywood?

Also I'm going to be doing a lot in organising my colleagues in Nollywood and the press to pressurise the House of Assembly to pass the bill that will collapse all the segmented groups of the Nigerian film industry into one, so that we can impress upon the National House of Assembly to pass legislation that will enable this industry grow. We have not been able to grow because we need to come together as one and have government pass legislation that will protect us and help us grow and not only that, but make utilities like costumes and equipment easily affordable and accessible to enable entrepreneurs and professionals of the film industry to be able to make the right kind of movies that help today's Nigerian stories.

What inspires your designs?

My designs are inspired by music, movies, infact the real kind of things that inspire me as a person or my work as an actress are the same kind of things that inspire my designs. I'm not a trained designer but I have partner designers who sit down and come up with the designs after I give them my ideas and concepts.

What would you consider to be the boldest step you've taken in life?

The boldest step is going ahead to have my son Clarence Peters.

Why did you say that?

Because I was still in the university and I was 17years old. My mother was going to be mad at me and I may drop out of school. I was also surrounded by friends at school who were saying that my life was going to end if I don't abort the pregnancy, and I was so scared that I was going to be alone in the world yet I said no.

How do you relax despite your busy schedule?

I'm a beach person or I check myself into a very good hotel if I have a weekend or my home but if I have to shutdown totally, I travel out of the country.

You said your brand includes t-shirts, corporate and casual wears, are you planning to do natives like ankara and lace?

My designs are work clothes and casuals; for me the ankara stuffs are cloths for occasions and not clothes for someone who really wants to be on the move. I love the African prints, so I would be merging it a little in the corporate casuals which would be produced exclusively for my high profile partner outlets.